The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 251 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the program, it has been 12 weeks since our last Three Page Challenge. So, we will be doing one of those today, looking at three samples from listeners and offering our honest assessments. We will also be answering some provocative questions from our listeners.
Craig: Yeah. Let’s see if — I mean, you’re not going to get into trouble, but I probably will.
John: Yeah. I’m looking forward to that conversation.
Craig: I’ll end up in jail.
John: We have seen way too much of each other this week. You and I had a great lunch with Larry Kasdan, which was fantastic.
Craig: We did. Yes.
John: We recorded a one-hour podcast for the Dungeons & Dragons podcast, the official Dungeons and Dragons podcast, so that will be coming out at some point. I had a hard time reverting to my role as a guest and not a Segue Man.
Craig: [laughs] I know. It was amazing. You really just — your natural mien is to run a podcast, and you’re really good at running podcasts. So it makes sense.
John: Yeah. So, when things would go way off topic, I kept trying to bring us back to Dungeons & Dragons, for example, and not Sexy Craig. And I did not succeed.
Craig: Well, listen, they wanted Sexy Craig. You can’t —
John: They clearly wanted Sexy Craig.
Craig: You’ve got to give people what they want. Sexy Craig always gives people what they want. It’s a huge issue with him.
John: We also got a chance to give people what they want on the 250-episode USB drives. So, we recorded a special little introduction to that. We’ve been talking way too much. So, I barely even remembered that we had not recorded an episode this week until yesterday afternoon and said, oh you know what, we should actually find some topics.
Craig: It did seem like we had already covered about five podcasts worth of stuff, but here we are. And then I’m going to see you again like in a week or whatever when we have our Dungeons & Dragons game again.
John: Plus, we’re playing Pandemic on Monday. So, there’s too much.
Craig: That’s right. We’re playing Pandemic on Monday. Oh my god. Well.
John: Far too much.
Craig: Listen man, whatever. You know what? You’re an easy person to spend time with.
John: Aw. Thanks Craig. That’s sweet.
Craig: I didn’t say you were fun to spend time with.
John: Yeah. Just easy.
Craig: Just easy. [laughs] Aw, Craig.
John: Aw, Craig. Let’s do some follow-up. So, back in Episode 242 we discussed the Internet outrage over the death of a gay character in the show The 100. And what TV showrunners owe to fans and sort of that weird relationship between TV showrunners and fans.
So, this week a friend pointed us to a site called LGBT Fans Deserve Better. And it has a thing called the Lexa Pledge, which is basically TV writers pledging to take certain steps in relation to their LGBTQ characters. Craig, did you get a chance to take a look at this?
Craig: I did. Yeah. I read through all of it.
John: So, let’s talk through some of the points. We will ensure that any significant or recurring LGBT characters we introduce to a new or preexisting series will have significant storylines with meaningful arcs.
John: Mm-hmm. Other ones that are very similar to that, I would say. We refuse to kill a queer character solely to further the plot of a straight one.
John: All right. We acknowledge that the Bury Your Gays trope is harmful to the greater LGBTQ community, especially queer youth. As such, we will avoid making story choices that perpetuate that toxic trope. We promise never to bait or mislead fans via social media or any other outlet.
John: That was the one which I thought like, really, that’s a broad general thing that they’re doing there.
Craig: Kind of tipped their hand there, didn’t they? What this is really about.
Craig: I don’t like these pledges. I mean, listen, I’m completely in favor of treating all characters, but especially characters that are portraying people that have been either underrepresented on television, or treating unfairly in society in general. Treating them with respect. Treating them with dignity. Not falling back on stereotypes. I’m entirely in favor of that.
I am not at all in favor of anybody taking any pledge about their characters. They’re our characters. We’re writers. I don’t want to say ever I’m going to ensure, for instance that any significant or recurring LGBTQ character will have significant storylines with meaningful arcs. What if I want to have the police captain be gay and just have him be gay and it’s not a thing. We just hear that he has a husband and that’s that. And that’s it. And he’s not an important character. I’m not allowed to do that? That’s crazy.
John: Yeah. I think that’s not the intention behind this. My bigger worry with this kind of pledge is that you’re addressing a situation that has happened, obviously there’s one sort of flashpoint for it, but it’s an overall problem and a real trope. And so to call out that trope is useful and meaningful. But it feels like, again, a very blunt force way to approach how we’re going to deal with it.
And especially like, you know, most of these things you’re pledging are really subjective considerations. Like we refuse to kill a queer character solely to further the plot of a straight one. Well, what does that mean? What does further the plot of a straight one, what does solely mean?
John: How good of a death does a gay character have to have? It just feels well intentioned, but I can’t imagine this having a great impact overall.
Craig: No. No. I don’t want to live in a world where writers can’t kill gay characters. Writers should be able to kill any character they want. We love Game of Thrones because everybody’s head is on the chopping block. Gay, straight, or otherwise. And that’s fair. I mean, it’s what we do. What this kind of thing ignores is that we have eyes and ears and we can watch and listen to movies and television shows and then draw a reaction, or draw a conclusion from what they’ve done. And if the conclusion is these people are just mishandling gay characters, and they’re being kind of irresponsible about it and a bit dismissive, vote with your eyes and ears, and get rid of it. And just don’t watch it. And probably it goes away.
Or protest. Do whatever it is you want. But I can certainly — as an adult, I feel like I can watch a television show and if a gay character dies and like, for instance, Renly died on Game of Thrones. Not because he was gay.
John: No. Everyone dies on Game of Thrones.
Craig: Everyone dies on Game of Thrones. I didn’t walk away from that episode going, “Argh, Dan and Dave, there you go burying the gays to advance the plot of the…”
We are far more capable of determining what is — and then when you get to “we promise never to bait or mislead fans via social media or any other outlet,” what do you think social media — what do you think these shows use social media for? That’s it.
John: Yeah. I think at we’re at a really weird time, especially with social media and misleading and sort of what the creator’s responsibilities are to the show and to the fans via social media, because part of your job now seems to be kind of misdirecting people about what’s going on. Is Jon Snow dead? Well, they maintained a ruse for two years about Jon Snow being dead because that’s kind of their job now. So, you know, by the time this episode comes out, the news will have leaked about a major character dying on this one series that my daughter watches, and so I’m debating like do I tell her in advance, because it seems to be out there in the world that it’s going to happen. And she’ll be kind of traumatized by it.
But, I don’t know. We’re in a weird place.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, we get traumatized because we care. I mean, listen, everybody I think who is a reasonable good-intentioned, big-hearted person is concerned about the high rate of suicide and self-harm among LGBTQ kids. Okay? But when they say that the deaths of queer characters can have deep psycho/social ramifications, A, we are not responsible for people hurting themselves when we kill characters. B, they have deep psycho/social ramifications because we do our job. If they didn’t, that means you didn’t care.
We all go through that feeling, that terrible feeling of watching a character you love die. It stinks. It’s just no good. Nobody likes it. But that’s part of what drama is, right?
John: Yeah. So, if I were — I’m not going to sign this pledge — but if the pledge were just one of these points, I think I might sign the version that is just I acknowledge that the Bury Your Gays trope is harmful to the greater LGBT community, especially queer youth. As such I will avoid making story choices that perpetuate that toxic trope. That, to me, feels like something I could actually sign on to. Because that’s saying like, listen, I see what you’re calling out, and I agree. It’s a stupid trope that we need to avoid, not only because it’s lazy, but because it actually has a negative impact on a very vulnerable section of the population. I totally get that.
It’s the broader thing I thought just went too far.
Craig: Well, I’m in total agreement there. I would sign that. But, of course, here’s the irony of signing these pledges. The only people that sign the pledges are people that weren’t going to be doing that anyway.
John: I think you’re right. Yeah. So, to bring this back to me, which is part of my favorite subject, back in 2006 on the blog, I had the screenwriter’s vow of Air Vent Chastity. So, this is the trope that drives me crazy is that in movies and in TV, characters are always climbing through air vents and it’s always so unrealistic and it can never actually happen. So rarely in actual life do people go into air vents, do heists happen through air vents. It happens all the time in TV and in film.
So, the pledge that I asked people to sign was, “I, John August, hereby swear that I will never place a character inside an air duct, ventilation shaft, or other euphemism for a building system designed to move air around.” And people signed that pledge.
Craig: I’m with you. In fact, I thought of you because I never forgot that. And I thought of you yesterday, because I was playing Unchartered Four, which is very good.
John: I hear it’s great.
Craig: And there is a sequence where — no spoilers here — in a couple of sequences they flash back to the time when Nathan Drake was a kid. And in one of those sequences, he goes through the air ducts. And actually, and then no, come to think of it, there is also an adult section where he goes — not pornographic — but when he’s an adult character, he also goes through an air duct.
You know, air ducts, A, aren’t that big. If they were that big they wouldn’t work as air ducts because there would be too much flow and no pressure.
Craig: This is the nerdiest reason — it’s so nerdy.
John: Here’s what I will say. I have enjoyed many pieces of quality entertainment that have involved characters climbing through air ducts. And so going back to Aliens, favorite movie of all time, and even like 10 Cloverfield Lane has an air duct moment. In both of those, it didn’t bother me because it felt like, well, given the situation that you’re in, that may be a reasonable choice.
I just get frustrated that I feel like it’s a lazy kind of hacky way that I see every one-hour adventure show doing a lot.
Craig: They love the air duct.
John: They love the air duct.
John: False suspense. All right. Some questions that are also kind of follow-up. James from, we’re going to say Launceston, Australia.
Craig: It can be Launceston.
John: “In your last episode with the Austin winner, that was Episode 250, you mentioned that her lack of dialogue in the teaser might be improved with lyrics that have some connection to the action. My question to you is do you write that specific sample lyrics in your dialogue? Or do we just write the song title in the action and assume the reader knows the lyrics to the song?”
Craig, that was your suggestion, so tell us what you think.
Craig: In all cases when I do things like that, I do use the lyrics. The whole point is that the lyrics, not the song title or what people might remember of it — usually when people see a song title, they’re just thinking the music, you know. The whole point is that the lyrics are a commentary on what we’re seeing. Some kind of ironic commentary or interesting commentary.
So in circumstances like that, I always use the lyrics. What I do is I don’t print them as dialogue, I print them in the action paragraph area, but I just put them in italics. And it’s quite clear. And then I break it up, so a couple lines, some action. A couple lines, you know, that sort of thing.
John: Yeah. So, I think the reason why I was asking for dialogue and why you suggested lyrics is because those first two pages were so dense and it was asking a lot of the reader. So, just breaking up that page a little bit more would help. In that circumstance, I probably would put them in dialogue, but I also would put them in italics. So I would like, you know, singer, and then those lyrics as being sung by a person in the space.
You don’t have to have all the lyrics to the song. I think just like two lines here, two lines there would be great. You can jump ahead in the song. Just anything that feels like it’s fitting the moment you’re describing would be great.
Craig: Yes. You definitely want in your mind to have a general sense, okay, this is roughly taking this long, and this song — here’s a section where the lyrics make sense. Yeah, you’re right, sometimes if things are very blocky on the page I might put it in dialogue. And sometimes the character’s name will by Lyric.
Craig: So, you know, yeah. But I wouldn’t not put lyrics in, if that’s the whole point.
John: Absolutely. All right. Do you want to take the next one here?
Craig: Sure, Anonymous writes, “I’m an aspiring writer in Los Angeles and I’ve been trying to land a TV writing assistant job. These are actual quotes I’ve been getting. ‘We love your resume and you’d be a great fit for this job, but the higher ups told us we have to hire a girl.’ Or, ‘It’s going to be extremely hard for you as a white male to get into a writer’s room.’ Additionally, there are competitions or fellowships that are not advertised as diversity programs, but every year the winners will be along the lines of female, African American, ex-Marine. Let’s say there were 20 winners, there might be one or two white people. I’m sure all the writers are greatly talented, however it is statistically impossible for so few white people to win in competitions where race supposedly doesn’t matter.
“This is not at all an angry email. I totally support equality across the board and I get what Hollywood is trying to do. I just find it interesting and a little frustrating at times. And I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.”
John: Great. So this is the kind of thing I’ve heard both from showrunners and from young staff writers, is that it is challenging in some cases to hire a young white writer, a young white male writer for certain positions. And it is challenging and frustrating to be a young white male TV writer trying to get one of those positions.
And frustrating is, you know, a good term for it, because it’s less than angry, but it’s annoying. And from a young TV writer I talked to recently, his manager said like they won’t even read you. Because basically when they’re looking at some of those positions, they really are going into it with the mindset of like this person we’re hiring needs to not be a white male.
And that is annoying for that writer, but it is sort of the reality that they’re facing. So, I thought we might start by talking about what these positions are and sort of why people are going after them.
Distinguishing between a writer’s assistant and a staff writer. A writer’s assistant is a person who is kind of like a PA. They are often in the writer’s room. They’re helping out the writers. They’re taking lunch orders. They are taking notes down. They’re helping the showrunner. They’re not hired as a writer, per se. They’re not hired based on their writing sample. They are hired because they seem like a competent person who can do a good job doing that sort of administrative stuff that they need to get done.
A staff writer is hired based on writing samples, and so that’s most of what we talk about on the show are people’s writing samples. So, this is Amanda who was on last week, the script she wrote, that would be a writing sample and she would be trying to use that to get staffed on a job. So, those are kind of two separate things, but they’re both considered very classic entry level ways to get into Hollywood.
You and I didn’t come through TV, but if we had come through TV, those would be our first jobs.
Craig: No question. And I don’t know what the legality is of saying to somebody, “We’re not hiring you because you’re white.” It doesn’t sound legal. I mean, I know that there’s a difference between I guess what you’d call sort of the sort efforts and then the hard — no white people.
But, yeah, here’s basically the deal. For a long time, the scale was weighted heavily in favor of white guys. And now the scale is being heavily weighted against them, at least in these early positions. And that is a function in part of how clumsy Hollywood is at diversity. They just — Hollywood, when it comes to diversity, Hollywood is like a surgeon with no fingers. Just fists. And they swing their fists around and inevitably in an attempt to help somebody, and inevitably somebody gets hurt along the way.
What do you advise for — because, look, I don’t like — I was working this out in my head. Part of the problem is you have a certain amount of jobs, right? And there are certain groups that underrepresented. You want to bring them in. If you maintain the same amount of jobs, and it becomes a zero sum game, then you are necessarily saying to maybe the best applicant, maybe the most qualified applicant is a white man and you’re saying, “No, sorry, because you’re a white man,” which in my bones feels gross. Any kind of discrimination based on gender or race, I don’t like it.
But, if they expanded the hiring pool so that it was more than a zero sum, it was a — but then I thought, yeah, but then, you know, what’s going to happen then? It’s the same thing. You could look at this pool as the expanded pool. You know what I mean?
John: Absolutely. So, we’ve talked about diversity a lot. And whenever we go through the WGA diversity numbers we’re like, well, these are terrible and we need to make improvements, and we have to sort of — some systemic needs to be made.
And so what I think you’re seeing here is this is the uncomfortable grinding of gears as you’re trying to make some systemic change. So, let’s take a look at the macro decisions that are going on here and what the studios are looking at when they’re saying — you know, whether they’re officially saying you need to hire a diverse candidate for this slot, what their intention is.
And so I think the industry genuinely wants more diverse writers. They want people of color. They want women. They want people from a wide variety of backgrounds. And not only do they want new writers, but they want experienced writers. So, in their fantasy world there would be a whole bunch of really talented, really experienced diverse writers they could hire for their shows.
There’s a supply and demand problem. There aren’t enough of those really talented experienced diverse writers, because we haven’t been hiring them at those beginning levels for so long. And so the kind of brute force way of trying to get more experienced writers is to hire a bunch of really inexperienced writers to start in those entry level positions and try to grow them up. And so I think Anonymous is frustrated and I think everyone who is encountering this right now is frustrated because they’re trying to grow this generation and they’re just planting as many seeds as they possibly can. And there’s not sort of real estate to grow Anonymous because they’re trying to grow some diverse writers.
That’s sort of the macro thing I think is happening here.
Craig: I think you’re absolutely right.
John: But on a micro level, let’s look at it from the showrunner’s point of view. If you were showrunner running a show, you want an incredibly — let’s say you have eight writers on your writing staff. You want the absolute best writers you can find. I completely agree with you. You’re looking for quality. But you also want writers who bring different experience to the table. Ideally you don’t want like three writers from Brown who just graduated three years ago. You want people who sort of represent a range of experiences and who look kind of like America, who look kind of like the world, who look kind of like the cast of your show.
And so with those things in mind, the most qualified candidate isn’t necessarily the candidate who had the best writing sample. It’s the candidate who’s going to bring something into that room that another candidate can’t bring. And that’s why I think you end up sort of going for the diverse writer sometimes, even if script to script you might say like, well, the other one is a little bit better writer, you might say this is the reason why I’m hiring that person.
Or, in the case of a writer’s assistant, you’re not even really looking at a script. You’re looking at this is a chance to bring this person into the room and hopefully get the benefit of some of their experience. And that’s why I think you’re going to go for — even if like there wasn’t an official mandate saying we want a diverse candidate for these entry level spots, I think you’re going to — you may steer yourself towards that because, look, if you want a diverse staff and you would love to have — you’re going to have a hard time finding a Pacific Islander Co-EP because there just aren’t that many.
But you might be able to find that kind of person in a writer’s assistant, or a staff writer. And comparing two people, you might pick that person because that’s a chance to bring that person and that voice into the room.
Craig: Yeah. That is all correct. And the point of this gear-grinding, I think that’s an apt analogy, is to hopefully avoid gear-grinding in the future. In the meantime, somebody like Anonymous is at an individual basis sitting there going how is this fair for me? And it’s not.
John: It’s not.
Craig: It’s not.
John: And it’s not fair for him. It’s not fair for him in the sense of I’m trying to get this entry level writer’s assistant job, and I’m not getting this. And so I think what Anonymous needs to do is also take a step back and look at like, okay, have I had any advantages going into this situation that I’m not fully recognizing or addressing?
And so he may have social connections that would have sort of gotten him that job naturally kind of anyway, so like a college connection, alumni, his roommate is friends with this roommate who is friends with this roommate. That kind of stuff. You’re at a bit of an advantage I think in Hollywood coming from those social connections as a white person.
He might have had economic advantages. And so one of the things I hear a lot from people who are going after these sort of entry level jobs is like, oh, well they had these great unpaid internships. Well, you can only sort of take an unpaid internship if you can afford to take an unpaid internship. And so that’s an advantage that Anonymous might have had that he doesn’t sort of realized he had.
And, finally, there’s just geographic advantages. If you live in LA or in New York, you had more chances to sort of go in after those things than a person who is coming in from Chicago or someplace else. And so there may be a reason why they’re going after that writer who — or writer’s assistant who is from someplace else because, well, that’s a chance. Or, an international writer, or somebody who came from a different country because that’s a chance to get that experience in there.
Craig: All of that is true. Now, it may also be that Anonymous is a bit like I was when I started out. Even though I went to a pretty fancy college, I didn’t have any social connections in Los Angeles. Alumni were of no help. [laughs] And there was no college anything, I mean, you know, we’ve told the story. I mean, I basically got a job because I went to a temp agency and typed.
And my family didn’t have money. And I was living on the opposite side of the country from the city I wanted to be in. So, it would have been really frustrating and upsetting to me personally if somebody said to me, “You are the best candidate for this job. However, I cannot hire you because you’re white.”
Now, with that said, the only real advice I can offer Anonymous on this is this, and it’s the same advice that I remember talking to a writer. He’s black and it was about four or five years ago. And he was just saying, “I’m so tired of these moments that I encounter.” That it’s not like overt white-sheet racism, but it’s racism. And it’s just exhausting. And the advice I gave him is the same advice I’m going to give you, Anonymous. It’s happening. You are not in control of what is happening. Stay focused on what you are in control of, which is you and your work.
So, the world around you will continue to revolve in a way that is not fair. And while other people attempt to make adjustments to make it fair, or not, or make it worse, I don’t know, you may go ahead and fight for your rights as you wish. But when it comes to work, stay focused on what you control. The better you get, the more persistent you are, the harder and harder it will be for people to deny you.
John: So as I talk to young white male writers who are facing this, the ones who have had success more recently had been basically creating their own stuff. And so if you write a show, write a pilot that people want to make, well, congratulations. You’re now a TV writer because you wrote something that’s going into production.
And so they’re basically skipping the step of being the young staff writer and trying to get that entry level job. The other thing I would say is that I think Craig is exactly right in both I think you can acknowledge your frustration and look at it, and then you just have to kind of set it aside because dwelling on it is not going to improve the situation. And so trying to label it, or I’ve heard this term thrown around, the “white guy tax,” basically it gets more expensive to hire a white guy for something, that’s not going to help you or anybody. So just don’t think that way.
Instead, think about sort of what you can do, how you can distinguish yourself. To what degree you are offering a diverse voice in one of those rooms can be useful. When I had Aline and Rachel on for the episode two episodes ago, they were talking about they had a diverse staff and talking about sort of different racial things. Like, “We have a guy from the Midwest.” And that got a laugh in the room, but Aline was serious when she said that. She needed people who were not just from the coasts. Who were not just this one thing.
And having from different backgrounds really helps. And so there may be something about your specific background, you specific experience, things you’ve done that are useful. And so Anonymous singles out like, oh, a soldier got it. It’s like, well yes, a soldier is an interesting different experience. And so if you have something like that in your tool belt, don’t be afraid to use that.
Craig: Yeah. I’ll tell you, and I’ll say this to anybody. I don’t care what your identity is, or how you identify. In the end, no matter what a system attempts to do, in the end talent will win out. So, if you are at home, and you are Latina, and you are feeling ignored by a system that seems with a deck that is stacked against you, your talent I believe will win out. And if you are 22-year-old white kid who is headed out here and is getting doors slammed in his face because you’re not diverse, talent will win out.
Keep your eyes on your own paper, I guess, is the way I would put it.
John: Yeah. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to insert yourself into a system that is not ready to accept you. And I think ten years ago, feature screenwriters were in a similar situation where there was a whole generation of young feature screenwriters coming in, and there just were not jobs because we stopped making a lot of features.
And so those screenwriters could have complained, and some did complain. It’s like, well where are the jobs? There used to be like young screenwriters used to get these jobs. And the smart ones recognize like, you know what, that door has kind of closed. And they started finding other ways to get work. So, they started working in TV.
And now if you’re this guy here, and it’s hard to get started in TV, well look for the thing that’s not hard to get started in. And so that may be the next industry, the next wave, the next thing that is just looking for great writers and hasn’t even really kind of thought about sort of how to diversify it. Go after that, but don’t beat yourself up about someone not letting you have this one job you think you should have.
John: Cool. All right. Next question comes from Ben. Ben writes, “I’ve had two low budget indie movies produced. Made the Nichols finals. And landed my first two studio jobs in quick succession.” Congratulations, Ben.
Craig: Yeah. Sounds like — is this a white guy, do you think? I mean, what’s going on here?
John: “With those two projects moving in the right direction, and two new ones on the horizon, I find myself faced with a different kind of challenge. I’m a pretty fast writer and comfortable juggling multiple projects at once, but my biggest question at this point in my career has to do with managing steps. If I submit my first draft and the studio starts hunting for a director, I want to take another job. But what happens if I’m in the middle of job two when job one calls and wants its first rewrite? The last thing I want to do is overcommit and piss people off. But I can’t let great opportunities pass me by just because I’m sitting around, waiting for the next step on a prior job.
“From two guys who juggle a lot of studio projects, how do you handle this?”
Craig: Well, carefully. This problem is a wonderful problem to have.
John: Yeah. High class problems.
Craig: High class problem indeed. But nonetheless, it is probably the thing that comes up the most when I’m talking with writers who are in similar situations. This is the big agita of our lives. When there is more demand for your work than your ability to supply to supply it, then these things happen. What I find in general is this: everybody understands that sooner or later the shoe will be on the other foot. If I’m taking a job and working on one thing while I’m supposed to be working on your thing, that’s no Bueno.
But, if I take your job and I do it, and I’m successful at it, and I leave and I start another one, and then you come back and say, “Guess what? Everything is going great. We need some more work.” And I say, all right, I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m finished with this. Give me a couple of weeks, or whatever time I need, they can’t really get angry at you.
Craig: If they try, it’s all too easy to just say what I’ve said so many times over the last 20 years. It should be like a little thing I could press a button. You wouldn’t want me to do this to you. I’m on your thing. You wouldn’t want me to just drop it and walk away. And they always seem to get it when you put it that way.
John: Yeah. Everything is always a huge rush and priority when it’s their thing. And when you’re waiting for them to read something or do something, there’s no hurry on their side.
So, when you are making a contract to write a movie, you’re signing a deal, and there’s generally multiple steps. Back in the golden days when Craig and I were starting, those steps were guaranteed steps. And so you would have a first draft. You would have a rewrite. You might have a second rewrite. You might have a polish. And there were reading periods between those steps. And I remember very fondly and vividly off of one of my first writing jobs, this if for How to Eat Fried Worms, I had like three guaranteed steps. And so I figured out I could make my little spreadsheet of like I will turn this in then, and there will be a reading period on this. And I could count on that money coming in because those were guaranteed steps. And that was a golden time.
That doesn’t exist anymore. So, I will bet you that Ben is taking a one-step deal on these projects. And so he is writing his little pen to the nib, and turning it in, and hopefully they’re loving it and they’re going after a director. When that director signs on, that will be the next step. But Ben has no way of knowing whether that next step is ever going to happen. So Ben has to be looking for that next job.
So he gets that next job, he’s working on that, and they finally come back to him and say like, okay, now we need you to sit down with the director. But he’s busy doing other stuff. In reality, what you do is you kind of make it work. And you take the meetings, you start figuring out how to do that stuff, and then you try to finish up job number two so that the minute you hand that in, like later that afternoon you’re working on that next thing.
And that is the reality. And it’s because I think we work in a draft-based business rather than a time-based business that it gets so uncomfortable. If we were working just on a clock, like when I’m doing a weekly, it’s like, you know what, that was turned in. That’s done. And I can walk away clean. That never happens in normal draft set mode of business.
Craig: Yeah. Make it work is pretty much what you got to do here, Ben. You will have some late nights. You’re going to have some weeks. I mean, I’m too old to work to the extent where I go, oh my god, I am exhausted. But it happens all the time.
John: Larry Kasdan at lunch said like, “How do you guys juggle multiple things at once?” Which seemed like a bizarre question from him. Because like how could he not have been this his entire life? And so we will tell you, Ben, what we told Larry Kasdan is you just make it work.
Craig: You make it work.
The one thing you got to be aware of is that on these one steps they have an option almost always for a second one, and they have a certain amount of time in which to exercise that option. But, this question of who is in first position and who is in second position, at some point your agent is going to litigate all this for you.
Let your agent kind of handle this, right? She knows what you’ve got. She has all of your contracts. She has all of your deals. She also knows that if you’re this busy, it’s good news. Nobody gets angry at somebody they don’t want. They only get angry at you because they do want you. That’s the best kind of angry at you and it doesn’t last. Because they know that if they get too angry and they throw a real tantrum, A, they’re not going to get good work out of you. And, B, that’s the last they’re going to see of you. And this is what your agent can do. This is why — this is why agents exist. If we didn’t this kind of buffer, my god, we’d all save the 10%.
John: Yeah. My last final rant is that if studios would just stop making one-step deals, a lot of this would be a lot simpler. Because Ben would not have had to sort of go after that second job, or that third job right the minute he turns in the script.
Craig: We’ve said this — when we go and meet with the heads of the studios. Billy Ray, he always says, “These people are looking for their next job the day you hire them for your job.” Because they have to. Because they have to. And that’s a problem for everybody.
John: Craig, why don’t you take the next question?
Craig: Right. Andrew, the delivery guy, writes, “I’m about 30 podcasts out from your first live taping in Austin. In the event you haven’t done a follow-up episode regarding it, and now that many years have passed, have your opinions regarding the Black List evolved any? Is it still a positive, viable inlet for new writers? Or has it perhaps succumbed to the gravity of financial immorality?”
John: Oh, I like that. I like that terminology.
Craig: The gravity of financial immorality. There’s got to be something other than those two options, right John?
John: [laughs] I think we’ll find a middle ground here. So, Andrew is not referring to the NBC show starring James Spader, he’s referring to the Black List, which is a creation of Franklin Leonard who is a friend of both of ours.
And so Franklin came to the live show in Austin — I think our first live show — and talked about the launching of the Black List as a paid service, which is where writers pay money to submit their scripts. They get professional coverage. And then industry professionals can download those scripts and read them. And so that was a new thing that Franklin was doing. Confusingly, I still think it’s confusing, Franklin also runs the Black List which is the annual assessment of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, which is gathered together from the hive mind groupthink of all the top executives in Hollywood.
I’m sure Andrew is talking about the paid service Black List.
John: And when we talked about in Austin, Franklin was very nervous that Craig would hate it. And I think your exact quote was, “I don’t hate this,” maybe.
Craig: Right. It was I won’t attack it.
John: Oh yeah, you won’t attack it. That’s good.
Craig: Yeah. I won’t attack it.
John: And since then we have not attacked it. And we’ve brought it up a couple times on the show saying like, you know, as people asked for like what should I do next, we will send people to that, or to the Austin Film Festival, you know, screenwriting competition saying that might be a check for whether you are a good writer or not. Because you just may not know.
But we’ve come short of like fully endorsing it, because we don’t have personal experience with success or failure or how it all feels and fits to our lives.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, we don’t really endorse anything to be honest with you, because that’s not what we do. But the Black List is, there are a lot of services that are like this. It is the only one I think that has the proximity to actual legitimate decision makers that’s required for it to be viable.
That doesn’t mean that an enormous amount of people are coming out of the service with gigs. But then again, an enormous amount of people will never come out of any pool of people with gigs, because there are very few jobs and there’s an enormous amount of competition.
What I can say about the Black List is that I know a lot of the people that are on the reading side of it, and they’re real. It’s not like these ridiculous pitch fests where some C-level production entity is sending their third assistant’s intern to hear your pitch. And it’s baloney, right? I mean, so much of that is just nonsense.
It’s fairly affordable. It doesn’t seem like they’re gouging you price wise. And it seems also like you would be able to figure out within a month or two if it were something that kind of might help you or not. So, is it a positive, viable inlet for new writers? I’m going to say yeah, or at least it’s not a bad one. You know?
John: I think the “not a bad one” is where I would land, too. If I were envisioning a service that does what Black List does, it’s kind of the best version of it. I’ve seen so many terrible scammy versions of it. And it’s like Franklin is actually smart enough to create like the good version of it. The good version of it is not perfect. And one of the things I admire about Franklin is whenever there’s like criticism of it, he will go right to where the source of the criticism is and like fully engage, be it on Reddit or wherever. And he will explain sort of what they do, what’s been working well, what’s not been working well.
And he’s both smart and responsive. And so that leads me to believe that probably the organization is run in a smart and responsive way. So, again, I’m short of endorsing it, but I feel like it’s the best version of that kind of idea I’ve seen.
Craig: I’m with you. I think that Franklin is a legitimately decent man. And he is legitimately connected to our business. He is close with a lot of agents and a lot of producers and a lot of managers and a lot of studio executives.
And, I mean, you and I, we’re not hanging out with some random dude that runs a baloney Scriptapalooza three times a year in Tulsa. We don’t do that. So, he’s a legitimate guy, and also he’s a decent guy. Those two things often don’t overlap, so it’s nice that they do for Franklin. So, certainly I can say that, no, I don’t think anything Franklin Leonard will ever do is in danger of succumbing to the gravity of financial immorality. He’s a very moral person actually.
John: Here’s one thing I will say. Stuart is friends with a lot of development executives, and we were talking about the Black List and Stuart relays that his friends will say in theory, they could be going on the Black List and looking at the highest rated scripts, and reading them and finding great new writers. That in reality their reading lists are so packed anyway with the stuff that they’re being assigned to read by their bosses that other colleagues are telling them to read, that they’re not going on the site to find those scripts.
And so that fantasy of, you know, you will discover these great writers, or that these industry professionals are going there to look for the next great writers, from Stuart’s limited development experience and his friends, doesn’t seem to be happening as much.
Craig: I would not be surprised if the real notice only comes when you are in the very, very, very, very top of the distribution pool of however they rank things. You know, essentially there’s like a — you should read this script. Really? On Black List. What did it get? It’s a 9.7 after 14 reviews. Oh, yeah, okay. That one I will read. People only read things because they’re frightened somebody else is going to read it and turn it into a hit. None of those people read things for any positive reason. They’re just scared to death that they’re going to be hammered over the head with it when somebody else reads it.
John: I worked for a year as a reader at TriStar. And I covered a hundred scripts, so I wrote full coverage on stuff. And of those things, I recommended exactly one thing. I recommended two things. And both times I got called to the mat for wasting people’s time recommending these things that they wouldn’t want to make.
So, it’s — Franklin is doing the Lord’s work trying to write up coverage and get people to really engage on material.
Craig: Indeed. We have one last question here. Should we do it?
John: Do it.
Craig: All right. JD writes, “I have a question.” Well, that’s convenient, JD. “I have a question about how you go about getting text transcriptions of the Scriptnotes podcast. Do you farm it out to a transcription company or do you use some super advanced speech to text software? I’m curious because I have a lot of interview footage to transcribe and yours are always pretty spot on.”
John, how do we do that? Because god knows I don’t know.
John: So, Stuart does it. And so Stuart farms it out to a guy. And for all we know that guy is farming it out to a guy. So it’s sort of a black box. What happens is we’re recording this on a Friday. Stuart will take the file and he will send it to the transcription guy, who often before the episode actually is out he’s already started transcribing that. And so that transcript comes back to Stuart. Then Stuart has to do a lot of work manually by hand just fixing things.
And so the transcription guys have been smart about, they’re starting to recognize names of things, like how we like stuff to appear. But Stuart still has to do a lot of work. And it’s hours of his week doing that. That’s the job of the producer.
Craig: I would have thought that it was just Stuart alone in some kind of spider hole, underneath your house, little bits of fish bones around him as he poses Gollum-like over his laptop, his big moon eyes staring at it as he types, types away.
John: There’s a bit of that, too.
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: Yeah. And I don’t know whether any of this is being done programmatically, or if it’s all people typing, or if it’s in India. I don’t know. I kind of don’t want to know. I hope it’s not child labor.
Craig: I guarantee you it’s an entire village of nothing but children.
John: Indeed. But maybe they’re learning a lot about screenwriting.
Craig: You know what they’re learning. They’re learning that if they get arthritis at the age of eight, they’re tossed down a well.
John: Before we get on to Three Page Challenges, I have one last note, and this is sort of a frustration that I have not singled out, but I’m going to single it out now. So, in JD’s email he writes Scriptnotes, but he capitalizes the N in Scriptnotes.
Let’s not do that. That’s not how the actual word should be. I think people do that because the feature in Final Draft for Scriptnotes is capitalized, has that camel case where they capitalize the N. I just hate it.
So, if you’re a fan of Scriptnotes and you’re writing in, or you’re seeing it anywhere, or you’re tweeting about it, it’s just capitalize the S and nothing else. Or don’t capitalize anything. That’s fine, too. The camel casing of the N just drives me crazy.
Craig: That’s called camel casing?
John: It’s camel casing. It’s from programming, which is where you join two words together. Hashtags do it a lot, too.
Craig: Because it’s like a camel’s hump in the middle of the word?
Craig: I’ll tell you people out there, I don’t care. [laughs]
John: Craig was the guy who thought up the title of Scriptnotes.
Craig: I did. That’s true. I did. I did. As far as I’m concerned, camel case the hell out of it.
John: He did exactly one thing.
Craig: Yeah, I know. [laughs] Exactly one thing.
John: All right, let’s get to our Three Page Challenges. Our first Three Page Challenge is from Bryan Koo. It’s called Korea Town. It is a pilot. The pilot’s title is Ma Vlast. I don’t know what that means after three pages. But that’s what it is.
As always, if you would like to read along with us, you can find PDFs of these Three Page Challenges on the show notes, so just click through and you can see all of the PDFs for these writers that we are about to read. I will attempt to summarize this. So, in the teaser we hear the deafening noise of a helicopter flying over the streets of Los Angeles. It’s in flames. A spotlight sweeping. We see a middle-aged Asian guy with a fishing hat and rifle. This is Lee Chang-Soo, 55. He shoots the rifle. A black kid drops dead.
We hear radio saying that we are in the middle of the LA riots. This is 1992. We see Chang-Soo slide the bolt in his rifle, getting ready to shoot again. And then a Molotov Cocktail is thrown in a parabolic arc through a building. Not quite clear what connects to what.
We are inside a convenience store. We see Michael Lee, 30. He’s got a handgun. He is scanning the aisles. He’s looking for Benson. The window shatters. Red lights reflecting on the remaining windows and then bam, bam. Police open fire. And then we tilt up and reveal Family Mart, which is sort of the place that we’re at. That’s the end of the teaser. Start of Act 1. Establishing shots. Everything is beautiful in Los Angeles. We see the pier. Beverly Hills. The Hollywood Sign. And then we’re in Korea Town. So, some time spent setting up what Korea Town feels like. By the way, this is where I’m recording this podcast. I live at Korea Town, so it’s fun to see this stuff.
We see the same guy, Michael Lee, from the start. He is jogging past a homeless man. He meets up with Hannah, his I believe wife. And they’re having a little bit of dialogue before he goes into the Family Mart. And that is the end our page three.
Craig: I have a theory.
John: Tell me.
Craig: My theory is that the harder it is for us to summarize these things, the worse they are. I could see you suffering and struggling trying to summarize here, because this is a very choppy three pages. I have multiple issues, Bryan, but I’m going to start with sort of the overarching one. And then we’ll get into some granular stuff.
I’ve seen every single in this before about 200 times. It is so generic. It’s even a generic portrayal of the LA Riot. We begin with what is kind of an iconic image from the LA Riots, Korean men standing on the roofs of their shops, defending their property. I’m immediately disoriented because I see this Asian man up there and, bang, a black kid drops dead.
Where is this black kid?
John: That was my first note, too. The geography in this first thing was really confusing. I also got confused, is the convenience store, is that a direct cut? Are we at the same place? I don’t know where I am.
Craig: Precisely. It doesn’t appear to be the same place or time, because it’s not a continuous or same time, it’s night. So, I usually think we’re in a different spot. You have a radio announcer coming in the middle of all this action. So, that seems weird. If you’re going to have a radio playing behind something, it’s got to be right up front, otherwise you’re going to hear somebody just suddenly out of nowhere a radio starts.
It seems like a rioter throws a Molotov Cocktail, which flies in a parabolic arc and crash, interior convenience store, broken glass showers the younger Asian man. We have a Molotov Cocktail. That’s not just a bottle. That’s a bottle of gasoline and a rag that’s on fire. So, is there now fire in the store? You don’t seem to say.
John: I don’t know.
Craig: We meet this character, Michael Lee, black suit and a handgun aimed with highly trained accuracy. At what?
John: I didn’t have a picture of sort of who this guy was, and I kept thinking suit. Is it like a Tarantino kind of black suit and gun, or is it military, is he special ops? I just didn’t know what I was seeing there.
Craig: I agree. And here he has the physical description of him is “fierce eyes with one eyebrow bisected by a deep scar.” Which, again, this stuff feels like kind of honestly a lot of these descriptions feel like video game kind of stuff from 15 years ago, not from now. So, he finds — he’s yelling for Benson. And he finds Benson. Benson is a skinny Asian boy, hugging his knees, shaking in fear and tears, which is a bit over the top unless, you know, he’s special needs or something.
He’s 18 years old. He finds him and then yells his name at him again. Benson! Which, I don’t understand, unless he didn’t find him and then we’re cutting to behind the counter and we’re hearing him off-screen saying, “Benson.”
Then he turns to the window. A window shatters. We see red lights. Bam. Bam. It shatters. To police open fire. Are the police shooting at him? What’s happening? Ugh. Very difficult.
John: I’m frustrated with you, too. So, a few little word things to sort of get to and sort of some formatting things. So, going back to his description of Michael Lee, “Scans the dark abandoned store with fierce eyes with one eyebrow bisected by a deep scar.” The two withs — with fierce eyes, with one — like you got to — don’t give me two with clauses there. That didn’t help you there.
“Chang-Soo calmly slides the bolt on his rifle despite the tremor in his hand.” Well, he’s calmly — is calm but has a tremor?
Craig: That means early onset Parkinson’s. That doesn’t mean emotion.
John: Yeah. It’s strange to me. Also, Bryan has the more and continueds turned on for — a Final Draft thing, so there’s like Continued at the bottom of the first page and at the top of the second page. Don’t do that. That feature is useful when you are turning in a production draft and there could be broken pages, and A/B pages. Don’t use this for now, because it’s just getting in the way of stuff. You don’t need any of those continueds.
Craig: And similarly, I think, you want to do page breaks when you end your teasers and begin your acts, right?
John: 100%. I think we can probably stop here. This didn’t work for me. And so here’s what I will say about the idea of this is that a 1992 set show from the perspective of a Korean family going through the riots, that could be great. I think that is actually a potentially really interesting pilot. In some ways, the same reason why I liked Amanda’s thing being period is that it is timeless because it’s always going to be 1992 in that pilot. So, I think this could be a good sample if the writing was good.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. The only advice I’ll give you, Bryan, but it’s big advice is everything counts. Every word counts. Every detail counts. If you put it on the page, you got to mean it. You’ve got to know exactly what it is. And you got to make me want to know what it is. And you’ve got to make me understand it. This just — it was a bit of a muddle. Bit of a muddle.
All right. Well, I go ahead and summarize the next one here. Let’s go with Open 24 Hours. Screenplay by Jamie Napoli. Story by Jamie Napoli and Joshua Paul Johnson. Okay.
So, we open on — by the way, we got a couple of Stuart specials here. Did you notice, by the way?
John: I did notice this.
Craig: The old Stuart and medias res. He loves it.
John: So we should explain what a Stuart Special is for new people. When something opens and opens with a teaser, and then it flashes back in time, that’s a Stuart Special. And it’s not that Stuart picks them, it’s just that so many of the things that people send in are Stuart Specials.
Craig: He picks them. He does.
John: Yeah. Maybe so.
Craig: Stuart Special. Okay, so our Stuart Special, Open 24 Hours. It begins outside of a diner in Bloomfield, New Jersey. The year is 1989. There is a crowd of police with their cars and a reporter is saying that tragedy struck at the Two Greek Brothers Diner. There was a deadly shootout.
And a reporter interviews a man named Ed, who is the night manager, or former night manager. And the reporter says he witnessed tonight’s bloodshed. Ed, tell us what you saw. But before Ed can say anything, there is an explosion from within the diner. And that little Stuart Special ends with the neon sign of the diner, Two Greek Brothers Diner, Open 24 Hours.
Then we go to morning and this is six months earlier. And we’re hearing Paulie. And Paulie is talking about how basically the glory days of the diner, how when he was 10 the governor of New Jersey came by and he called Two Greek Brothers a Jersey treasure. No one is saying that anymore. And it appears that he’s rehearsing a little bit of a speech to somebody. We don’t know who.
And then a waiter, Nico, comes in. And says, “Did you tell Ed he could take over staff training?” Paulie goes out onto the floor of the restaurant and he sees that Ed is with some new hires, including Kourtney, the girl next door, and Timmy, a busboy in training. And Paulie has a little bit of an argument with Ed, takes over the training. Ed is upset and walks away.
John: Yep. I loved these pages. I just loved them. And so I’m going to mostly focus on the things that I thought were great and a few little things to cut or move around. But I dug them. And we talk about specificity all the time, but I like the specificity of this. I liked Paulie a lot. I got a little confused who he was talking to at the start, but I liked his voice a lot. I loved Ed. You know, from the very start like when we first meet Ed, is like, “Do you still want me to talk?” Like after the explosion. Or like right before the explosion. It’s just — all of the details felt really right. And I could totally see it. And that’s where it really comes down to.
I could hear the voices. I could see it. I felt like, oh, I get what I’m going to experience if I were to watch this on a screen. It felt sort of lived in and interesting and real. On page three, the very sort of passive-aggressive fight between Paulie and Ed here about who’s going to give the instruction is great.
There’s a moment on page three, just a parenthetical. So, Ed says, “Your uncle doesn’t mind — “
Paulie, in parenthesis, touching Ed’s elbow, “It’s not your job.” The touching the elbow is such a great sort of like, it’s a passive mood where you’re not really putting your hands on somebody, but you’re just trying to steer them away. I really thought it was just a very strong batch of pages.
Craig: It was. They were very well-written. I enjoyed Ed. I could see Ed in my head. I liked the descriptions of people. “Ed, bone-thin and fidgety. Ed is the sort of guy co-workers smile at in case he’s planning a shooting spree. He stares unblinkingly into the camera lens.”
This is exactly the kind of thing that I think is legal, but creative, right?
Craig: That’s something an actor can do.
John: But look at his name. Ed Nissirios. It’s just so great. It’s well-picked.
Craig: Yeah. And similarly Kourtney, who is there for the waitress job. “The girl-next-door, if you happen to own property on the Jersey Shore. Big hair, blue eye shadow, an FU expression,” he says the whole thing. I’m just trying to keep it clean here. “An FU expression she wears like armor…And she’s just Paulie’s type.”
All playable. Like doable. And you know me, hair and makeup. That’s my big thing.
John: Totally playable. Yep.
Craig: So, here are the only things I — my only suggestions. One small and one big one. Small one. You have Paulie as a pre-lap. That’s not really a pre-lap. Pre-laps are — I mean, it kind of is.
John: I think it’s pre-lap. It’s a long pre-lap.
Craig: It’s a long pre-lap. Yeah.
John: I circled that, too. It is technically a pre-lap, because it is the dialogue he’s speaking in the next scene. But it’s a really long one.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s just easy to do off-screen and connect it up. I think it might be — if the idea here is that he is practicing a speech for somebody, help us just a little bit. I had to read it a couple times to make that inference.
For instance, on the line, “I got a dream. A dream… nah, that’s too much.” Even if there were parenthesis, you know, (reconsiders), or something just so I understood. Because at first I thought that’s what he was saying. I thought maybe you were going to reveal that he was talking to somebody. And then you didn’t. So, that’s the small thing.
Here’s the big thing. If this were a TV show, I would think ending with the diner going Ka-Boom would be a decent end to the Stuart Special. But it’s a movie. If you’re going to do this in a movie, Stuart Specials in movies are — they’re bigger than that.
John: I think they are bigger than that. Bigger not just in the sense of explosion, but more story beat has to happen there.
John: Because right now it’s not really happening.
Craig: No, it’s got to be really — like John Wick begins with a Stuart Special. And a car just drives in, smashes into a wall. Keanu Reeves gets out. He’s bleeding. He’s dying. And he starts to die. That’s okay. You can start a movie that way. This could be a gas fire. It’s just not enough. It’s not enough to make me go, Whoa!
John: I would cut the first reporter voiceover. I feel like we can get that — it’s actually stronger without it. We get the information we need before that. So, get rid of the “Tragedy struck at Bloomfield’s own Two Greek Brothers Diner.” No, don’t tell us that there was a shoot-out. Let’s get into it.
Craig: I agree.
John: It’s more suspenseful. And then you get a little more moment with Ed and the reporter, or just like the reporter getting set up, or trying to get the angle. But it’s going to be great. So, well done, Jamie. And I should also single out that the story is by Jamie Napoli and Joshua Paul Johnson. So, to whatever degree Joshua Paul Johnson helped out there, well done.
Craig: Well done.
John: All right. Our final Three Page Challenge comes from Suzanna Christopher. And it is called iDo. And the I is lower case and the D is upper case.
John: It’s camel case, in fact.
Craig: Camel case.
John: Just like the iPhone, and that is intentional because the subtitle for this is a Silicon Valley Rom.com.
As we get into it, Heather, who is beautifully unaware of her own beauty…oh.
Craig: There we go.
John: So, most of us is a voiceover. So, Heather is giving her voiceover and explaining “Why do I deserve the Pitkins Grant. Well, I’m so glad you asked.” And so we see Heather as she is getting up. She’s wearing two sweaters, a sweatshirt, and years of therapy. We see her boyfriend. Their cramped little apartment. And then she’s going out for this interview.
And so she lives in East Palo Alto, which is adjacent to Silicon Valley if people don’t know the geography there. Sort of a rundown neighborhood. She’s got a helmet. She’s on a bike with a safety flag. She bikes over the 101 Freeway. At the Stanford Quad she goes in for this interview and she’s describing what the app is that she’s trying to build, or what the system is she’s trying to build, which is basically a quick test to figure out whether two people should get married. Whether they’re going to be compatible for the long haul. “I promise nothing less than to eradicate divorce in our time,” a sort of bold thesis.
The trustees meeting, where she’s trying to get this grant. There’s one trustee who suddenly wakes up in the middle of it. She wants to go and give this speech that we’ve heard her practicing. They don’t care about that. They only care about sort of the paperwork. And we end on a vegan mushroom joke, that looks like a fecal sample.
Craig: John, do you think I’m beautifully unaware of my own beauty?
John: You are beautiful as James Blunt would want to point out in a special way.
Craig: I am beautifully unaware of my lack of beauty.
So, here’s the thing. My general feeling about these pages, Suzanne, is that there’s too much going on. So much going on, I didn’t know where to look, and I didn’t know what to think. You lost a sense of perspective for me. And I lost my sense of perspective as I read because she was saying a million things, and I was looking at a million things. And they were all different.
So, on page one, she is talking about, well, she won’t tell us what she’s talking about. So, part is we’re listening and trying to figure out where is this going. She wants a grant. Imagine a world where you could save $50 billion a year in legal fees? Uh, okay. I wonder how that’s going to happen.
$22 billion in psychiatry bills. Da-da-da end. Da-da-da. All this. Imagine all these things. Yeah, okay. What is it for? Tell me, tell me.
While that’s all going on in voiceover, I see an alarm clock powered by potatoes. I see a woman waking up with two sweaters and a sweatshirt on. I see a boyfriend with a macramé sleep mask. I see a cramped room that looks like a meth lab, including oscilloscopes and back issues of Vegan World. I see what might be a real Picasso on the wall. I see her walk out of her apartment and there’s an enormous image of Garfield the Cat with a 10-foot-long penis. I see her unlock her 10-speed bike with three locks. That’s all one page. All of what I just said.
What am I looking at? What am I thinking? I don’t know. [laughs]
John: So, if I had all of those visuals without the voiceover, I might be able to draw a thread about sort of who she is. And it’s hitting me pretty hard, but I might be able to follow that thread. But her voiceover, every time I’m reading the voiceover I’m like, well, that’s a very different thing you’re giving me there. So, I’m having a hard time balancing the two things together. And I didn’t understand that she was practicing the speech at the very start. I found it weird that the dialogue was in italics. And I see kind of what she was trying to go for, but the italics were not helping me there at all.
I felt like there’s a false analogy on page two. She says, “But instead of measuring sexually transmitted diseases… My test will predict with 100% accuracy if two people will suffer romantically-transmitted diseases. Like boredom. Isolation. Infidelity. Diseases that 52.3% of couples catch during their failed marriages. In short…” It didn’t feel — that logic didn’t feel like the logic I heard three sentences before. So, it was tough.
I think you either need to show me the character, or you need to establish the premise, but trying to do both at the same time didn’t work for me.
Craig: I agree. It was all over the place. I didn’t find her — first of all, when she’s doing this voiceover, we don’t know what she’s doing because we can’t see her. So, I don’t know if she’s talking to someone. I don’t know if she’s practicing. I don’t know.
On page two, I agree with you, that her pitch actually wasn’t particularly compelling. The fact is, it’s an interesting thing, if it’s true, and I feel like this is inspired a little bit like that chapter from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, where a marital expert got to just say like, “Oh, after 20 years of this, two people walk in a room and I go, no chance, they’re done.”
So, it’s an interesting point, but I don’t feel this character has any actual passion for her point at all. She seems glib, and it’s not helped by the fact that now on page two, I honestly don’t know what’s going on, because what Suzanna gives us here is now a sort of pushed reality/quasi dream sequence where Heather is being joined on her bike with other — she’s riding a bike, then other people showing up. We don’t understand why.
She gets off her bike and then snaps her bike in half over her knee. The crowd goes wild. What?
Craig: What’s happening? I understand that that’s not real, but I don’t know why it’s there.
John: Yeah. When we had Tess Morris on the show, she loves romantic comedies. And so a thing I think she would like about this is on page two she’s stating the premise very boldly and directly. “I promise nothing less than to eradicate divorce in our time.” That’s a bold premise. And so I do like that she’s trying to get to that place. And you’re establishing a character who sets that as her objective at the start. And then you can see like, okay, well how is she going to beat and not meet that objective?
Unfortunately the details about the character I learned around her didn’t feel like the person who actually had that thesis, at least what I saw on those three pages.
Craig: Yeah. There’s something that you hear all the time when you’re writing comedy, any comedy, a rom-com or anything. And that’s grounded, grounded, grounded. Everybody wants it to be grounded, unless it’s supposed to be a spoof, or a parody, or something that’s ridiculous.
So, you want to ground this character somehow. The fact that she’s pitching this thing, and she also has poop appearing mushroom gum, she feels like someone’s friend to me. She feels like there’s this other unseen character named Anne and Heather is like the problem — Anne is doing this and Heather is like her wacky assistant. You know?
Craig: Who makes mushroom gum and drinks out of beakers and has crazy — I know she didn’t drink out of a beaker in this, I’m just imagining. Because now in my mind I’m like, oh, actually Heather is a cool crazy assistant character. There is a great idea for a rom-com where somebody actually comes up with something they believe works that predicts whether or not two people who have just met will make it. And she meets somebody and she does the test and it comes out no.
That is so rich for — because there’s a great theme there. Do you try, do you fall in love if you know? Because that echoes to me what life is. I mean, look, you and I are both married. We both know sooner or later, either we’re going to die first, or they’re going to die first. It doesn’t end well. Ever. And we still do it.
And so that’s part of the human condition. It’s a fascinating idea. And obviously that’s, I assume, that’s got to be what she’s going to be planning here. But these three pages need Ritalin. Or something. Guanfacine.
John: I agree. I think the character needs some focus, but the overall like how we’re presenting the idea, and is this even the right character to present this idea.
Craig: Yeah. I guess the thing is, Suzanna, there’s so much potential for this premise to be meaningful and interesting, that I think you have — you’re not treating it with what it deserves.
Craig: Yeah. All right.
John: Cool. I want to thank all three of our writers for sending in their scripts and being so brave. And congratulations on making it through Stuart’s filter, because Stuart reads everything that people send in, and he deserves a round of applause for doing all that.
Craig: Of course.
John: If you have three pages you would like to send in for us to look at in a future episode, you can go to johnaugust.com/threepage, and there’s instructions there for how you send in stuff. You don’t email it. You actually attach it to a form and you sign the little form that says it’s okay for me to include this stuff.
And part of that is because we include these scripts not only with these episodes, so they’re attached to the show notes so you can read the PDFs, but we also stick them on the USB drives people buy, so when the nuclear bomb goes off, people will still have their copy of iDo to read.
Craig: And thank god for that.
John: Yeah. It’s important. It is time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is delightful. And so I’m going to ask Matthew to include this underneath my talking, because I will describe what this is and you will be moved back through time. So many of you probably were not even born when this aired, but these were fond memories from my childhood.
This is a YouTube clip from ABC’s promo for Still the One. So, each season as the networks debuted their new shows for television, they would do these promos that just talked about how great their network was. And they would use all their network stars in these promos. And ABC’s were fantastic, as were many of them. So, Ricardo Montalban shows up in this. This one that I’m going to include has a bunch of people in hot air balloons celebrating ABC’s great season to come.
So, having just witnessed another upfront season in television, I was brought back to nostalgia for the days when network TV was all the TV there was.
Craig: You know, this was my first job in Hollywood was working on these things.
John: Tell us about it.
Craig: In 1992, I was working at an ad agency that mostly did promos for CBS. And the big job that we had, and I was just, you know, this young kid who started as a clerk, and then worked my way up to copywriter, was the fall campaign for CBS. And so I went back and — this inspired me. I found it on YouTube. It’s called It’s All Right Here. CBS, It’s All Right Here.
And it’s horrendous in all ways. It’s just terrible from top to bottom. But, you know, a slice of its time. It’s bizarre. I mean, and I remember, by the way, I had the experience of going and shooting these people and meeting all of these television stars and shooting them just head-turning and laughing into camera. It’s the most ridiculous thing.
John: It’s great. So I want to thank Stylez White for singling out this video and a bunch of other ones, because it’s great because you see Hal Linden just like pops in all these different moments from Barney Miller. And I think what’s weird about them is you’re seeing these actors outside of the characters they’re supposed to be playing. And like those two people aren’t on the same show, and yet they’re interacting with each other. What’s going on?
John: And my young nine-year-old brain was just like mesmerized by it.
Craig: Well, that’s why, what was it, the Network Olympics? What did they call that thing?
John: Battle of the Network Stars. Was the best program that has ever been aired.
Craig: Because you’re like Gabe Kaplan is wrestling with David Hasselhoff? Okay, so my One Cool Thing is the most mundane thing of all time and I love it so much. Cast Iron Skillet.
So, I’ve become obsessed lately with my cast iron skillet.
John: That’s very good, Craig. So, you were the one who mocked me on the first live show for singling out a kitchen knife, but okay.
Craig: Listen, I don’t like it when you hold me accountable for the things I say and do. Okay?
John: [laughs] I totally understand. Yeah. We should live in a post-accountability age.
Craig: I am not accountable for anything other than what I’m doing right now. So, cast iron skillet. Do you have a cast iron skillet? Do you own one?
John: Do I not own a cast iron skillet. I have in the past. They’ve rusted.
Craig: Of course. Of course they have.
John: And I’ve moved on.
Craig: So this is the great — cast iron skillet is the most important piece of cookware you can have. It’s the best piece of cookware you can have. And the reason why is because, you know, they’re very heavy. I mean, they’re very dense. They maintain their heat completely. So, you have a regular pan, you throw a steak in there, the pan, its temperature probably drops in half right there that second. Cast iron, no. Stays the same because it’s so hot because it retains all the heat.
Problem with a cast iron pan that people think is, oh my god, it’s so hard to upkeep. It’s not. You just have to know what to do. You’ve got to season it. That means a little bit of oil. And then you get that oil really, really hot. You do that three or four times, the oil bonds with the metal and does something called polymerization. And it becomes essentially non-stick, but not because of Teflon coating, but because of just natural awesomeness.
If you have a cast iron skillet at home and it is rusty and nasty, quarter cup kosher salt, some paper towels, and a little elbow grease, you will scour it right off.
John: Very good.
Craig: How about that?
John: That’s great. So my experience with cast iron, and everything you said is absolutely true, and there’s a reason why chefs love them. I would have rust problems and I would always burn myself on them because I would think like, oh, that pan has been out of the oven for an hour, it should be cool. And, no, it’s still incredibly hot.
John: Yeah. Craig likes it hot.
Craig: Sexy Craig loves it hot. Cast iron hot.
John: And that’s our show for this week. So, if you would like to write a question for me or for Craig, you can write into firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the questions we answered today. Those long form questions. That’s where they go.
Short things are great on Twitter. Craig is really good at answering questions on Twitter. He’s done it a lot this week.
John: Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel, is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. Our outro comes from Paul Barlow. If you have an outro for us, you can write into that same address, email@example.com, and send us a link. We have a bunch in the folder to use and they’re just great. So, you guys are so talented. Thank you very much for doing that.
You are probably listening to this in a podcast application on your iPhone or other Android device. But if you would go over to iTunes and leave us a review, that would be fantastic. Because iTunes, pretty much the only way people know to subscribe to stuff is when iTunes features us. And the more people who leave us a review or a rating or a wonderful comment, that helps iTunes notice that, oh that’s right, that’s a podcast we should feature. And it’s been about a year since they featured us. So, it would make me feel good.
Craig: It would make John feel good.
John: It would make me feel good. Craig, thank you very much for a fun time. And I look forward to playing Pandemic with you on Monday.
Craig: You got it. See you then. Bye.
- LGBT Fans Deserve Better
- The Screenwriter’s Vow of Air Vent Chastity
- Scriptnotes, 60: The Black List, and a stack of scenes, and blcklst.com
- Three Pages by Bryan Koo
- Three Pages by Jamie Napoli
- Three Pages by Suzanne Christopher
- How to submit your Three Pages
- ABC’s 1979 Still The One TV stars promo on YouTube
- Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet on Amazon, and thekitchn.com on cast iron care
- Outro by Paul B (send us yours!)